Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bigotry in Turkey and in Europe

Say you are Jewish or Sikh or Hindu or a Unitarian in Turkey. Can you be a full-fledged Turkish citizen?

Yes, in theory but not in practice. You’d have to subsume your religious, ethnic and other identities into being just “Turkish.”

This is not another variation of the old Quebec separatist refrain about who was a true Quebecer — only the pure laine. This goes to the core of how, even whether, Turkey can move beyond multi-party elections and evolve into a liberal democracy in which all citizens are truly equal.

Turkey is an important emerging power, the only Muslim member of NATO, a model for many in the Arab Awakening, and a bridge between the West and the East.

Its $1 trillion market-driven economy is booming, recording a growth rate second only to China’s. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has also succeeded in asserting civilian control over the shadowy “deep state,” the unelected trinity of army, judiciary and bureaucracy that for decades dominated elected governments, even toppling them.

Turkey’s next challenge is to end a century of discrimination against minorities, the largest being the separatist Kurds, nearly a fifth in a population of 75 million.

That would mean confronting the authoritarian political and social legacy of Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish republic in 1923. That was a time of great chaos amid the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The 1915-16 genocide of Armenians had eliminated up to a million people. Post-World War I, the Allies plotted to divide the Ottoman Turkish heartland — a plan Ataturk thwarted. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne sanctioned the deportation of 270,000 Christians to Greece and the acceptance of 130,000 Muslims from there.

The territorial integrity of the new republic was paramount. Non-Muslims — Armenians, Greek-Orthodox, Christian Arabs, Jews, etc. — were deemed fifth columnists. The new “Turk” was going to be a Turkish-speaking Muslim — a Sunni, at that, who subscribed to Hanafi theology (one of five schools of Islamic jurisprudence).

That formulation also excluded the Alevis (an offshoot of Shiite Islam), the Kurds (who were both Sunni and Alevis) and the Laz (an ancient people related to Georgians and living on the Black Sea).

All would be “Turkified.”

This was ironic. The new secular order that had abolished the sultanate and the caliphate, switched the day of rest from Friday to Sunday, banned the hijab, and changed the Turkish script from Arabic to Latin, was resorting to a religious identity to define citizenship.

Yet the new state also wanted to control Islam. It ordered the new Sunni Muslim citizen to subscribe to laiklik, secularism. But unlike the French laicite, which separated state and religion, the Turkish model empowered the state to dictate all religious observances, including how to pray and dress.


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